The long awaited post about why I love Nina Zenik from the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo more than any other character ever. Needless to say, this is a post very much filled with spoilers for both books.
First of all, I rarely come across two strong females in a group of fictional friends and to see Nina and Inej be so supportive of each other makes me so incredibly happy. There are so many amazing female characters in YA like Lila from ADSOM or Katsa from Graceling but they never have a strong bond with another leading female. I genuinely get so emotional when reading scenes with Nina and Inej because it’s just so good to see girls supporting each other.
And here’s Inej sizing up Matthias like a best friend would:
“Nina is everything you say. It’s too much.”
“Mmm,” Inej murmured, taking a sip from her mug. “Maybe you’re just not enough.”
I don’t think I know of any female heroines that aren’t skinny and I just love that Nina is wonderfully curvy and still portrayed as such a badass and the biggest flirt around, besides possibly Jesper. Nina also has the biggest appetite of the whole crew and I completely relate to her obsession with waffles.
She shoved one of the cakes from the coffee service into her mouth and mumbled, “What do you want, Kaz?” “You have crumbs on your cleavage.” “Don’t care,” she said, taking another bite of cake. “So hungry.”
“Nina just liked to flirt with everything. He’d once seen her make eyes at a pair of shoes she fancied in a shop window.”
Nina is such a fierce character and I love how she embraces who she is and doesn’t let anyone walk over her. She comfortable with herself and she’s loyal to her country and her friends, who are the most supportive people, despite being reckless thieves.
“Please, tell me more about Fjerdan girls.”
“They speak quietly. They don’t engage in flirtations with every single man they meet.”
“I flirt with the women too.”
“I think you’d flirt with a date palm if it would pay you any attention.”
“If I flirted with a plant, you can bet it would stand up and take notice. Are you jealous?”
“All the time.”
I love the way she interacts with Matthias, bold and unapologetically herself.
“Oh, I see. I’m the wicked Grisha seductress. I have beguiled you with my Grisha wiles!”
She poked him in the chest.
“No. I’m beguiling you.”
Somewhere along the lines, she becomes addicted to jurda parem, which not only takes a serious toll on her health and her relationships, but it takes away her Heartrender abilities. And then she’s left with nothing. She depended on her powers her whole life, especially while working at The White Rose, and then suddenly they’re ripped away from her. For the first time ever, she loses her sense of self and it’s heartbreaking. But then she discovers her powers have only been altered in a crazy (and creepy) way and she overcomes the challenges and harnesses her new power, even though for the longest time she felt like she was being punished and treated like a joke.
Lastly, she’s loyal and patient with Matthias, a boy who takes a long time to believe that she isn’t the enemy. “They fear you as I once feared you,” he said. “As you once feared me. We are all someone’s monster, Nina.”
Matthias is incredibly conservative when they meet and I just love the dynamics of their relationship and seeing Nina be the one to take the lead.
“What are you looking at, Matthias?” The low thrum of her voice vibrated straight through him.
He kept his eyes on the ceiling, whispering softly. “Nothing.”
“Matthias, are you praying?”
“For restraint?” she said sweetly.
“You really are a witch.”
“I’m not proper, Matthias.”
“I am aware of this.” Miserably, keenly, hungrily aware.
“And what did you do, Matthias? What did you do to me in you dreams?”
“Everything,” he said, as he turned to go, “Everything.”
And they were so playful with each other! Like,
Every morning he complained that she was impossible to wake. “It’s like trying to raise a corpse.”
“The dead request five more minutes,” she would say, and bury her head in the furs.
“Stop looking at me like that.”
“Like I’m made of ice cream.”
“I don’t care for ice cream.”
“Matthias,” Nina said, “I’m not sure we can continue to spend time together.”
I must admit, if anyone was going to die, I’m glad it was Matthias. I loved him, I really did, but I cared about the rest of them so much more. And that’s where my dilemma is, because Nina cared about Matthias. She didn’t deserve to lose him after all she had done to protect him. As much as I like to view Nina as a strong person who doesn’t need anyone, that’s not who she is. She thrives off of the love of her friends and Matthias and it hurts to know she had to lose someone so important to her.
“Meeting you was a disaster.”
She raised a brow. “Thank you.”
Djel, he was terrible at this. He stumbled on, trying to make her understand. “But I am grateful for that disaster. I needed a catastrophe to shake me from the life I knew. You were an earthquake, a landslide.”
“I,” she said, planting a hand on her hip, “am a delicate flower.”
“You aren’t a flower, you’re every blossom in the wood blooming at once. You are a tidal wave. You’re a stampede. You are overwhelming.”
And in the treacherous Crooked Kingdom ending, she’s still holding on, ragged but not backing down. “Nina screamed, a howl that tore from the black space where her heart had beat only moments before. She searched for his pulse, for the light and force that had been Matthias.”
And honestly I don’t remember which book this quote is from but it reminds me of their final moments together and it just makes me so emotional because it truly embodies their relationship so much better than any lengthy chapter could.
“I promise, Matthias. I’ll take you home.”
“Nina,” he said, pressing her hand to his heart. “I am already home.”
In conclusion, Nina is the ultimate role model. She’s incredibly charming, decisive, knows when to pick her battles, and has the biggest appetite of her entire crew. She’s super quotable and I love her so so much. She’s remains calm, cunning and loving throughout the duology, never really faltering, even when her back is up against the wall and no way out presents itself. If I could emulate anyone in the world, I would want to be like Nina Zenik. I feel a connection to her like I never have with any other character and I wish Crooked Kingdom wasn’t the end but I know the duology will always be there waiting for me to get lost in it again.